mental health professionals
Mental Health and Wellness

Mental Health Professionals and the Roles they Play

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Medicine is multidisciplinary and some of it’s disciplines are more understood than others for example cardiology and gynecology over psychiatry.

When we suspect we could be suffering from possible cardiovascular or reproductive issues, we sometimes by pass the general practitioner and go straight to the specialists; we know exactly where to go.

What about mental health? Do we understand the different professionals who work in mental health and the roles they play?

The collaborative efforts of these professionals ensure that patients receive care in-patient, out-patient as well as post-hospital care.

So who are these professionals and what do they do?

1. Psychiatrist

Oxford Medicine describes a psychiatrist as a trained medical doctor who has received further training in the field of diagnosing and managing mental disorders and emotional and behavioural disturbances.

If you were to visit a hospital and express your concerns about your mental health or that of a loved one, you would be referred to a psychiatrist first.

The reason for this is that a psychiatrist diagnoses and prescribes treatment for the various mental disorders which includes therapy or drugs or a combination of both depending on the diagnosis of the patient.

Depending on his findings after examining you, the psychiatrist would then decide on the best course of treatment and whether you should be admitted or receive out-patient care.

Other than patient care, a psychiatrist can be called upon to explain medical concepts to lay men in settings such as a court of law or the media. He also delivers reports to the court as to whether a suspect has the mental capability to stand trial.

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He/she is also responsible and accountable for the rights and care provided to all patients placed under his/her care.

Within the field of psychiatry there are specialisations such as child psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.

It is estimated that in Kenya there are about 100 psychiatrists for the current population of 45 million people.

2. Psychiatric Nurse

According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, psychiatric nurses are experts in crisis prevention, mental health, medications and therapies to assist patients in mastering mental illnesses.

Psychiatric nurses typically work closely with the psychiatrist’s and clinical psychologist’s to develop individualized treatment plans for their patient.

They also provide individual counselling to the patient as well as family so that they can have a better understanding of the illness.

She/he will also the assist the patient in personal grooming and dressing as is needed and also take their medications properly.

Unlike the West, where their roles are well defined, in Kenya psychiatric nurses often have to step into the psychiatrist’s shoes because of the lack of enough psychiatrists within the country.

A 2016 article by The Daily Nation titled, ‘Ours is a Society that doesn’t care about the mentally ill revealed that Kisumu District Hospital had been operating without a psychiatrist for over a year, as he was on leave.

This resulted in the psychiatric nurses taking up the full care of these patients despite the limited role they can play because of their training. Psychiatric nurse cannot diagnose, review the progress of patients or change the drug regimen of patients.

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3. Clinical Psychologist/ Therapist

The US National Alliance on Mental Illness describes a clinical psychologist as an individual trained to evaluate a person’s mental health using clinical interviews, psychological evaluations and testing.

He/she focuses on the diagnosis of mental disorders and works in collaboration with a psychiatrist to come up with the best course of treatment for the patient.

Other than mentally ill persons, they also provide individual or group therapy to persons with learning disabilities, those suffering from substance abuse problems, sexual difficulties and vocational problems.

Although the work of a clinical psychologist can sometimes overlap with that of a counselling psychologist, it’s important to understand that clinical psychologists can in some instances prescribe medication while a counselling psychologist cannot.

They are also involved in clinical supervision of patients in the hospital. They work in hospitals but also tend to have their own private practice.

They have a close working relationship with psychiatrist’s, psychiatric nurses and counselling psychologists that involves a lot of team work in ensuring the patient gets the best treatment possible.

4. Counselling Psychologist/ Therapist

Commonly known as counsellors, a counselling psychologist according to the American Psychologist’s Association (APA) helps people with physical, emotional and mental issues to improve their sense of well-being to alleviate feelings of distress and resolve crises.

Most often, they work with normal or moderately maladjusted individuals focusing more on emotional issues rather than mental disorders.

They assist children, adults, families, couples and groups deal with bereavement, domestic violence issues, relationship difficulties, traumas and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

Counsellors undertake an assessment of mental health needs to determine the course of treatment for patients. They also plan and implement specialist psychological treatment.

In Kenya, counselling psychologists can be found in hospitals, counselling centres or their own private practice.

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